1st Edition

The Evolution of Urban Heritage Conservation and the Role of Raymond Lemaire

By Claudine Houbart Copyright 2025
    312 Pages
    by Routledge

    The 1960s and 1970s saw a marked change in the approach to built heritage conservation. From a focus on the preservation of individual buildings, attention turned to the conservation, regeneration, and reuse of entire historic districts. A key player in this process was the Belgian art and architecture historian Raymond Lemaire (1921–1997), yet beyond those in conservation circles few people know of his work and influence or even recognize his name.

    In this book, Claudine Houbart traces how the change came about and the role played by Lemaire. She describes his work and influence and in so doing provides a history of urban conservation over the last four decades of the twentieth century and beyond. The first chapter summarizes Lemaire’s background from his training during the Second World War and his work as a Monuments Man immediately after the war, to his role in the drafting of the Venice Charter and his appointment as Secretary General of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites). The next chapter describes the rehabilitation of Great Beguinage in Louvain. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the project was directed by Lemaire and is a perfect example of the restoration of an entire district. The following chapter provides case studies of his work in Brussels, demonstrating his methodology in action. The final chapter discusses the transposition of the model of the historic city to urban projects and summarizes Lemaire’s influence on heritage conservation today, particularly integrated conservation. His participation in drafting key conservation documents sponsored by the Council of Europe, UNESCO and ICOMOS, and his desire to revise the Venice Charter are discussed. The book’s conclusion reflects on what has gone before, ending aptly with Lemaire’s own words ‘the past, properly understood, is one of the references for judging the value of today and tomorrow’.



    List of Acronyms


    Chapter 1       From Archaeology to Conservation

    A Family Legacy

    Training in Theory and Practice

    University Education

    Training in the Field: the CGRP and the Ministry of Public Works

    Building a National and International Network

    The Recovery of Looted Artworks

    Heritage Protection in Wartime

    First Contacts with Italy

    A Personal Vision of Conservation

    Raymond M. Lemaire and the restauro critico

    The St. Lambert Chapel in Heverlee

    The Venice Congress (1964): A Turning Point

    Drafting the Venice Charter

    The Founding of ICOMOS

    Chapter II      Constructing an Ideal Historic City: The Great Beguinage of Louvain (1962–1972)

    A Unique Context

    An Exceptional ‘Traditional’ Ensemble

    A Tailor-Made Programme

    A Flexible Schedule

    A Great Freedom of Action

    The Venice Charter put to the Test of the Rehabilitation of Urban Ensembles

    The Interiors: Conservation vs Comfort 

    The Façades: A Radical Restoration

    The Additions: From Contrast to Integration

    The Public Space: A Picturesque Vision

    A Reflective Process

    Lessons from Gustavo Giovannoni

    The Historic Cities’ ‘Way of Being’

    Chapter III    Ideal vs Reality: Brussels (1967–1990)

    Contrasting Precedents: Brusselization and Urban Scenery (1940–1960)

    Towards a Functionalist City

    The ‘Sacred Blocks’: An Urban Scenery

    The Input of International Reflections and R.M. Lemaire

    The 1960s: A Gradual Awareness

    The Quartier des Arts: A Catalyst

    A Challenging Context

    New Methodological Tools for a New Vision

    Learning from Eastern European Experiences

    Restoring the Links between People and their Built Environment

    ‘Thinning Out’ and Opening the Blocks

    Selective Preservation

    ‘Architectural Design in an Old Urban Environment’

    Correcting the Cityscape

    To Conclude

    Chapter IV     Towards a Holistic Approach

    R.M. Lemaire, a ‘Complete Architect’

    The Emergence of Integrated Conservation

    The Council of Europe’s Committee on Monuments and Sites

    New Doctrinal Instruments

    The Venice Charter: A Necessary Revision

    Bruges: A Laboratory for ‘Integral Planning’

    From Rehabilitation to ‘Retrospective Utopia’

    Towards Post-Modernism?


    Appendix 1. Commission royale des Monuments et des Sites. Problèmes de doctrine

    Appendix 2. Charte de Venise [première version]

    Appendix 3. Charte internationale sur la conservation et la restauration des monuments et des sites (Charte de Venise)

    Appendix 4. Charte de Venise, texte révisé



    Claudine Houbart, an architect and art historian, is a professor at the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Liège, and heads the DIVA (Documentation, Interpretation, Valorization of Heritage) research group. She is one of the Belgian representatives on the ICOMOS Committee on Theory and Philosophy of Conservation and Restoration.